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  • W.N.T.T.T.M


Assuming Octopi did not catch a ride on a meteor some 500 million years ago, the last common ancestor between humans and Octopi was likely a small flatworm. In the succeeding few hundred million years, many vertebrates evolved complex brains - where among the invertebrates, only the octopus takes that claim.

Octopus brains “evolved completely independently from the mammalian brain.” An evolutionary path that offers a unique earth bound perspective into alternative ways of thinking. Dominic Sivitilli, speaking when still a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington notes, “The octopuses’ long, separate evolution toward cognitive complexity makes them a very appropriate model for what intelligence might look like if it evolves on a completely different planet.”

Octopi recognise individuals, throw things at their harassers, decorate their homes, develop defensive practices, play with fish, and contain a whole universe of other capacities which remain either unrecognised or unappreciated.

Octopi are people, in the full sense of the term.

Octopi’s distributed brain means a sense of autonomy and self-hood which likely fundamentally differs from ours. An old professor would ask their students each year to point towards where in their body they reside, where is their self and where is their soul, as differentiated from where our consciousness feels most physically “seated”. As surely most of us feel like little creatures seated in the head, controlling this body. Many point towards the head, but many too in the class pointed towards the stomach, the abdomen, as distinct from those who pointed towards the heart. Where would the Octopi point?

So what if Octopi joined humans on Mars. Or on the extreme, what kind of settlement would emerge if Octopi and humans were cohabitating on Mars? Or indeed, what if Octopi were the technologically advanced species to settle on Mars, ahead of humans.

Surely at first, such co-habitation would mean an effective means of communication and collaboration. Otherwise, co-habitation would be either octopus as experiment or pet. But lets push towards assuming Octopi would be those going to Mars.

We have no evidence of architectural innovation per se, no constructed buildings, only repurposed environments. But we would assume the need for a fluid enclosed environment, highlighting the need for discovering water on Mars. Otherwise, to require a different means of exploration. And on and on the questions could emerge on the realities of such a species surviving the transit, the requirements of soft-body manipulation for construction and the need for an entirely different technology base. Would they expand out in more constricted tunnels? Would it be one singular undifferentiated and expanding environment, seen from space as a large enclosed disk expanding on the surface - within it hiding an artificial ocean. On and on, the questions can and should continue.

What we might ask further would be - would octopi replicate similar social, economic, and political challenges as we would. What would an Octopi civilisation look like anyways? Octopi are sometimes solitary creatures. Many species avoid grouping together, avoid interacting beyond mating. Other species of Octopi are wildly social. For instance, the story of “octlantis”, an “octopus city” discoverd in Jervis Bay, Australia around 2008. A wild description given the group dynamic numbered between 2 and 11, though such numbers serving as an indicator of how solitary these creatures have been seen as by humans. Though the story extends less into a burgeoning set of social cooperative behavior, and more a description of consistent semi-aggressive interactions.

Thomas nagel infamously asked in 1974, what is it like to be a bat, spurring the hard problem of consciousness - how to explain the fact that there are qualitative experiences. That such experiences are non-obviously reducible to physical descriptions of the universe. We do need reminders, both of the problem of consciousness along with the potential scope of different conscious experiences between different species.

What would it like to be an Octopus on Mars?

SOME REFERENCES from 'foot'-,In terms of separation down the evolutionary timeline%2C the octopus,floor 750 million years ago.

  • W.N.T.T.T.M


For everything that exists, someone has a plan to improve it. In the last 20 years, these plans often leverage a new gadget, and a willing venture capitalist behind it. Plans which have enabled the extension of apps, data collection, sensors, and the business models that accompany them, into every act, every mundane second of life.

For Evgeny Morozov, this “intrusion” should give us pause. He writes,

Alas, all too often, this never-ending quest to ameliorate - or what the Canadian anthropologist Tania Murray Li, writing in a very different context, has called “the will to improve” is short sighted and only perfunctorily interested in the activity for which improvement is sought. Recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definite computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimised - if only the right algorithms are in place! - this quest is likely to have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address.

Concluding this perspective, Morozov names the “ideology that legitimise and sanctions such aspirations” as Solutionism.

An ideology which does not focus a critique on the proposed solutions, but on such “solutionists” definitions of the problems. In effect, an ideology of understanding how to benefit from systematically putting the cart before the horse, “reaching for the answer before the questions have been full asked.”

An ideology already present historically, and oft considered. The critique of technoogical fixes to wicked problems, Jane Jacbs frustration with over-confident urban planners, van Illich’s arguments aginst the dehumanizing model of factory education, Hans Jonas disappointment iwth cybernetics, infamous yale anarchist James scott’s concerns on the drive from governments to make people and lands more orderly and therefore more readily, more easily rendered as manageable statistical information.

So the first tendency of such an ideology is to focus on the solution, at the expense of understanding the problem. All too often, this involves beleiving the problem is already resolved, and therefore what is left is undersatnding investable solutions.

Yet Morozov adds another dimension, that solutionists might over assume some problems to be in need of solving at all.

As Morozov writes,

A deepr investigation into the very nature of these “problems” would reveal that the inefficiency, ambiguity, and opacity - whether in poltics or everyday life - that the newly empowered geeks and solutionists are rallying against are not in any sense problematic. Quite the opposite; these vices are often virtues in disguise. That, thanks to innovative technologies, the modern-day solutionist has an easy way to eliminate them does not make them any less virtuous.

If youre immediate reaction is to cast any critique of solutionism as a conservative bent, Morozov anticipates this too. Morozov instead does not argue that many of the problems in center stage for solutionists are unserious - from political transparency to climate change. Instead, he makes a simple plea

the urgency of the problesm in question does not automatically confer legitimacy upon a panoply of new, clean, and efficient technological solutions so in vogue these days.”


Designing social institutions for off-world living is necessarily speculative. We must, by whatever methodology we pick, imagine what it will be like to live and exist under those circumstances.

But the capacity to imagine has its limits. Limits which are essential to understand if we want to effectively speculative about the future of off-world living, and to design social institutions which might govern that living.

To that end, while the prudent imagination is to ask, "what it is like to live under any proposed rules", we should add a further question:

“Can we, alone, effectively imagine what it would be like for everyone to live under these rules?”

At first glance, the concern might be addressed by having a sufficiently representative sample of inputs and imaginative capacity - or even to have a totally exhaustive sample, for each person living under these circumstances to report and disclose their thoughts. A process which may be entirely feasible for future off-world living given the small numbers in the beginning.

But the critique of imagination is not a critique of who is asked, but the fundamental limits of imaginative capability. What can it not do?

What about its most basic ability for many, to recall images from remembered observations. Consider an exercise as Sartre writes in The Imaginary

I want to remember the face of my friend Pierre. I make an effort and I produce a certain imaged consciousness of Pierre. The object is very imperfectly attained: some details are lacking, others are suspect, the whole is rather blurred. There is a certain feeling of sympathy and charm, which I wanted to resort to this face and which did not return. I do not renounce my project, I get up and take a photograph from a drawer. It is an excellent portrait of Pierre, it gives me all the details of his face, some of which had escaped me. But the photo lacks life: it gives perfectly the external characteristics of Pierre's face; it does not capture his expression. Fortunately I possess a caricature that a skilful artist made of him. This time the relations between the parts of the face are deliberately distorted, the nose is much too long, the cheeks are too prominent, etc. Nevertheless, something that was lacking in the photograph, life, expression, is clearly manifest in the drawing: I 'regain' Pierre.

Or consider a further exercise. Simply to sit close to a friend, a loved one, or a stranger and study their face. To trace the outline of their eyes and cheeks, their hair, their mouth. And then to close your eyes, for a minute, to try and imagine in their face in its fullness and reality. And then open your eyes, and ask honestly - what was missing in your imagined recreation.

Given the private nature of imagination, we are open to self-deception. But lets continue anyways.

Our inability to imagine details is one feature. But what about the ability to imagine another's pain. This is not merely to feel sympathy, or the sympathetic weakness and odd feeling of seeing someone in pain, the need to look away. This is to ask - do you when seeing someone in pain feel exactly as they do, is the feeling of physical pain transmitted. Sympathy is contagious, but thankfully physical pain is not.

For Elaine Scarry, opening her classic essay, The Difficulty of Imagining Other People, notes:

The way we act towards "others" is shaped by the way we imagine them.

Scarry continues later in the text,

the difficulty of impinging others is shown by the fact that one can be in the presence of another person who is in pain and not know that the person is in pain. the ease of remaining ignorance of another's pain even permits one to inflict it and amplify it in the body of the other person while remaining immune oneself

But what are the implications. If we accept this inability, and the implications it has for the ability to cause pain, should we trust institutions that rely on the ability of societies to "generously imagine" other groups in order to ensure governance?

Scarry's answer is a resounding no.

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